Before founding my current company, I had the opportunity to partner in several businesses, including my first successful business in college. Later in my career, I started Verifi in 2005 out of my apartment, and we were turning a profit after only two weeks. The better part of that success can be attributed to the lessons I learned along the way through my other ventures, and by listening to those who inspired me. Today, I’m glad to pay it forward and share some of that advice.
First off, one very important thing to realize is that it’s going to be a bumpy but fulfilling journey. Understand that things will never be what you expected, and that there is no such thing as a typical day. As a founder and CEO in my earlier days, there were things I took care of that I had no idea I’d be dealing with when I woke up that morning. When I ran smaller operations, it was up to me to run telephone wires around the office, assemble desks, and troubleshoot computer issues among our small team. As an entrepreneur, you often roll up your sleeves to do what it takes to continue moving forward.
Dare to take prudent risks, and be open to making ongoing course corrections along the way. Stay close to and listen to your customers, as well as the market and industry needs. Almost no one will get it right the first time, but an entrepreneur as a true leader must be open to making constant improvements—even if that means changing the status quo.
For example, when I founded Verifi, we enabled merchants to recover any losses they accrued from the credit card dispute process. We were good at it, but we felt that we could do better. So we consulted with merchants and issuing banks, and found that they wanted better collaboration with each other earlier on in the dispute process. So we pivoted to enable them to connect and mediate disputes before they became chargebacks in the first place.
Perhaps the most important advice I can provide is to surround yourself with a passionate group of talented people who aren’t afraid to argue their opinions. By checking your own ego at the front door and fostering that in your culture, you will ultimately make better and more informed decisions.
All businesses need be open to making changes. If you rest, you rust. They need to be forward thinking in building solutions that address not only today’s challenges, but tomorrow’s opportunities for the customers they serve. Otherwise, you’ll run the risk of being just another “field of dreams,” hoping business will eventually emerge. Ultimately, wise entrepreneurs listen and learn every day—even when the unexpected happens.